Why am I no longer a Republican?
I know, many of you think that’s the wrong question. The correct question, you say, is “why were you ever a Republican?”
Here’s how it happened. When I first registered to vote, in 1968, I registered as an independent. Maybe you missed the 60s, or you’ve forgotten them. 1968 was a time of social and political turmoil that rivals what we’ve seen over the past several months. Massive demonstrations, civil violence, hotly contested presidential election. It was a bad time for the country.
I was a student at the University of Maryland, voting in Buffalo by absentee ballot. I was staunchly anti-war, mildly pro-marijuana, seriously free-thinking (or so I thought – truth is that millions of young people were thinking about the exact same things: sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Oh, and Viet Nam.). I registered as an independent.
My sister happened to have volunteered to assist in polling in our town outside of Buffalo. One day, the volunteers were counting absentee ballots, and someone said “here’s one idiot who voted for Dick Gregory.”
My sister replied, “uh, that idiot would be my brother.”
Yes, I had written in Dick Gregory, the Black comedian-turned-political-activist, and ardent anti-war candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. He was, in my mind, the only candidate who really told it like it was.
Within a few years, I had met and fallen in love with Carolyn. We were married and moved to Hartford in 1975. When we arrived, we registered to vote – independent.
After my three years of law school, we bought a house in West Hartford. We went to town hall to register to vote. As we were leaving, Carolyn asked “Did you register as an independent?”
“No, I registered Republican.”
Carolyn immediately turned around, went back into town hall, and changed her registration from independent to Democrat! And so, we remained a politically split couple until last fall, when I no longer could tolerate some of what the Republican party had come to stand for. With a few quick clicks on my computer, I once again became an independent voter.
Why was I a Republican for decades? Because Republicans stood for things that I believed, and continue to believe, are at the very foundation of rational democratic governance, things like capitalism, personal freedom, limited government, national defense. Why are they at the foundation of our governance system? Because providing for personal freedom was at the core of what the founding fathers were trying to accomplish.
Until the war for American independence, the problem with all governments in the world had been that government was about the governor, not the governed. In England, for example, the king once had all the power, and democratic reform was about getting the king to give some of that power to the people. The founding fathers set out to upset the fundamental starting point – that the king had all the power. Instead, the founding fathers began with the premise that the people had all the power, and the people would decide how much of that power to give to the king. In the Constitution, they designed a system that allowed voters to choose the people vested with governmental authority; that was intended to provide as little government as necessary to maintain order and personal freedom.
When I went looking for people who shared my political views, people who wanted markets and individuals to be as free as possible, people who wanted government interfering with markets and individuals as little as possible, I found those people primarily in the Republican Party. Democrats, I found, wanted to expand the government’s power in order to achieve noble objectives and I believe that no matter how noble the purpose, the expansion of government power leads to the loss of freedom.
And so it was that I became a Republican.
The practical reality, however, was that the people who shared my political beliefs were in the minority in the United States. The people who placed their faith primarily in freedom and capitalism simply weren’t numerous enough to win elections consistently against the Democrats. Most people wanted government to fix a broad array of problems, and they voted with the Democrats. The Republicans needed more people on their side to compete in elections.
Enter the haters and the racists. It was a natural marriage, because the haters and racists found that the rhetoric of the political conservatives allowed their hatred and racism to be masked in politically acceptable terms. It all began when the haters and racists in the solidly blue American south couldn’t abide a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly sympathetic to Blacks in the 1960s. The southern haters and racists found their way to the Republican Party, and others have followed for decades.
If you’re a Republican, am I calling you a hater or racist? I don’t know what you are; only you know. What I do know is that there are plenty of haters and racists in your party.
Well-meaning Republicans held their noses and accepted the haters and racists for decades because, they told themselves, they shared common political values. The worst of them, political opportunists, recognized that they could build and solidify their political power by subtly encouraging the haters and the racists.
White America now can see the true cost of hatred and racism. The haters and the racists are not coming just for the Blacks or the gays. They’re coming for all of us, Senators and Representatives and Democrats and journalists. They’re coming for people who care about other people. They’re driven by hate. Violence and fear and death are their political tools. They’ve been killing Black men and raping Black women for 400 years, they’ve terrorized and killed gays for decades, they’ve burned synagogues, and now they’re in open warfare with the best, the greatest country in the world. And they’re living in and enabled by the Republican party.
It was as though I had discovered that my house was full of asbestos and cockroaches – the paint, the attic, the basement, the floors, the cupboards. When your house is full of asbestos and cockroaches, there are only two choices: Stay and remove all trace of the poison and the bugs, or leave. As a Republican, I faced the same two choices. Since there’s no practical way to get the haters and racists out of the party, I really had only one choice – leave.
In the aftermath of the insurrection on January 6, 2021, some Republicans seemed finally to understand that they must break with the haters and the racists. I congratulate them. Others, like Ted Cruz, twist and turn themselves with all manner of mental gymnastics to pretend to justify their continued alliance with the haters and racists. They must be recognized as amoral opportunists.
There can be no dialog with those who would destroy our government and their political allies. The Confederate flag must never again fly on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and I cannot be allied with those who celebrate that flag and what it stands for.
We must stand together against the haters and racists in our country. We are, as our President has said, in a fight for the soul of America.